For the last four years I have been campaigning against autistic abuse, discrimination and for autistic rights. Some parents of autistics are administering chemicals or abusing their children in an attempt to cure them. There is currently no policy protecting autistics from this kind of abuse, and so the message loud and clear from the current government is that we – autistic people – do not matter and are not worthy of investment. There needs to be legislation making it illegal for anyone claiming to have, sell, or recommend cures for autism.
Part of my campaigning against this abuse has taken the form of investigating social media groups which facilitate this to find out how much and what they are administering, and reporting these to social services and the police.
One such group, CD Autism, was owned by Kerri Rivera who also authored Healing The Symptoms Known As Autism. The book gives directions of a non-medically approved, non-scientifically proven protocol using chlorine dioxide to rid autistic children of the parasites she claims are causing autism. Sadly, there are parents who believe the claims in it, and subsequently proudly display the physical results, which can include nausea, rectal bleeding and hair loss, that their children incur in these social media groups. Parents are also displaying images of the bowel lining and colon mucousa from their children in these groups.
Other forms of abusive ‘therapy’ include applied behaviour analysis (ABA), a compliance-based conversion therapy. ABA’s sole goal is to train an autistic child to ‘blend in’ with their neurotypical peers. This is achieved by using clickers to force a response on cue from the child, withholding reinforcers, which are items or activities the child enjoys, until the child displays the desired behaviour, and punishments.
The use of these techniques is symptomatic of wider attitudes towards autistics in the UK. According to the National Autistic Society there are over 700,000 autistic people in the UK, with one in 100 people now being autistic. For some, a rise in diagnoses have given the impression of an ‘epidemic’, however adults that were previously undiagnosed are now being diagnosed, and better tools for assessment are resulting in more children rightfully being diagnosed.
Why then are these ‘therapies’ still allowed?
The Westminster autism commission, an independent, cross-party group headed by Labour and Co-Operative MP Barry Sheerman, launched a survey, then a report, on March 28th 2018 entitled A Spectrum Of Harmful Interventions for Autism. In it, the commission discussed the various types of ‘treatments’, their availability and their prevalence here in the UK.
The report found that the various agencies dealing with the complaints needed to review guidelines, and stated that legislation similar to the Cancer Act of 1939 should be looked at. The Cancer Act makes it illegal to claim cancer can be cured. Yet this recommendation has not been taken on by the Conservative party.
The Labour party, however, is actively working on this issue through the neurodiversity manifesto. The manifesto seeks to “ensure that all treatments and therapies aimed at autistic and other neurodivergent people are properly regulated and legislate against quack ‘cures’ such as MMS (bleach) which harm autistic and other neurodivergent people”. It also aims to challenge the deep social roots of discrimination against neurodivergent people and centre neurodivergent people in the policy making process.
Following Labour party conference earlier this year, the final version of the manifesto and its appendix on ABA was handed to John McDonnell MP who has committed the next Labour government to implementing the manifesto principles. This is something I hope the Labour party follows through on.
Once the manifesto is adopted, we will need to see change – change in attitudes, the law and the rights of autistic people in general until we can live as equals and be given the opportunities we deserve.